Sometimes life can have us feeling pretty punch-drunk. There’s an old superstition that claims that all bad news comes in threes, but occasionally it feels as though it comes in dozens. That kind of hardship would have anyone cowering in fetal position, on the precipice of a panic attack. So what can be done, when we’re at the mercy of events outside of our control? One answer is to foster resilience, or grit. This is the quality that allows us to get back up, to face a difficult circumstance, and to do it with humility. It takes a lot of practice to add this quality to our arsenal, but luckily, life gives us no shortages of opportunities to try it out. Here are some ways to flex this skill.
1. Step out of your Comfort Zone
Those safe, cushy places have their use for us, but the interesting thing about comfort zones is that they have this near magical ability to shrink. If we’re apt to stay within them, we may soon find that a clamouring club scene we’ve avoided steadily morphs into a night out with friends at a lounge. That old chestnut “do one thing a day that scares you”, often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, is not entirely wrong. (Though perhaps we’re not to go skydiving every single day.) The easiest way to go about doing this is by saying “yes” more often. Yes to invitations, yes to meeting new people, yes to trying something new at work. This will allow us to experience being a little bit afraid or overwhelmed, and give us the opportunity to develop our resilience.
2. Cut out the Negatives
While it isn’t always possible to sever ties with a rude coworker, or with an overly critical family member, we should, when possible, eliminate these circumstances from our lives. Enduring a negative situation is different from stepping out of our comfort zone, and we can tell the difference with a simple test: “how do I feel afterwards?” If the answer is “empty” or “emotionally drained”, chances are it has not been an enriching experience. If we boldly step out of our comfort zone by visiting a new friend, and we feel as though they’ve only talked about the dramatic circumstances in their life, we may feel as if we’ve been captured by an emotional vampire. Likewise for the pointless online arguments, the job that fills us with dread, the nights out that make feel empty afterwards. Wherever possible, we should cut these needlessly negative experiences out of our lives in favour of experiences that fill us with a range of emotion, but ultimately leave us feeling somehow empowered.
3. Observe your Feelings
Anyone who has experience with meditation will recognize this statement. The act of observing one’s feelings was a practice I’d first encountered while reading about Buddhism. In basic terms, it asks us to separate ourselves from our emotions by watching them. We can sit back and see that we feel frustration or sadness. Yes, we may feel slighted about something, but this doesn’t make us less competent, valuable, or worthy. What we feel is not who we are. (And as someone who deals with major depressive episodes, this was an important discovery.) The next time we feel hurt, we can acknowledge the weight of that feeling while simultaneously realizing that it does not affect the wonderful friend, lover, son, mother, or caregiver that we are.
4. Don’t Give into Self-Pity
We’ve just seen that we can observe our feelings, and nurture compassion for ourselves by realizing that we are not our feelings. Sometimes there is a feeling that masquerades as compassion: self-pity. Self-pity is usually propped up by fatalistic, false beliefs: nobody loves me, I’m worthless, I’m stupid, I’m the ugliest person here, etc.. But beliefs are not the same things as feelings. We can observe feeling hurt, but when we see the belief “I’m a bad person”, we should stop and unravel it. If we think about our favourite literary heroes and the terrible circumstances they need to face, the thing they most have in common is a lack of self-pity. They may feel doubt, apprehension, or fear, but rarely do bemoan, chapter after chapter, “why me? I’m the worst!” (For the reader, this might become one of those emotionally draining experiences and we would be better served tossing the book.) We can challenge the false beliefs that build up self-pity by examining them: “Am I really the worst daughter ever?” And then we can replace them with something true: “I’m not a bad person. Sometimes I overreact and say harmful things I don’t mean. Next time I feel angry, I’ll take a moment to reflect before I speak.” This statement includes a solution, a way to change the behaviour, and this has the effect of giving us our power back. We now have an accurate statement and a way to get up and improve.
5. Practice Self-Talk
Correcting our false beliefs is part of self-talk. Self-talk is sort of like being our own cheerleaders from inside our minds. We can offer encouragement, validation, and, with practice, our own inside jokes. (The most inside of all inside jokes.) These are things we often desire from outside sources, and while it is nice to be told we did a good job (great blog post, for instance), we will strengthen our esteem by providing it for ourselves. (Not to mention dash the heartbreak that comes with unmet expectations.)
Practicing positive self-talk will help foster resilience, because when someone tells us something we now know is patently false, we can raise our heads and think “I know I did a good job, and that person is acting like a wiener.” Afterwards, if we realize that this person is constantly telling us false things with the purpose of making us feel bad, we can cut them right out of our lives.